Courts propose settlement in CJD case
Government, importers would pay 1.16 billion yen in compensation
Two district courts on Friday recommended that a total of 1.16 billion yen be paid to one person with Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease and the families of 19 others who contracted the fatal brain disorder through transplants of imported dura mater and have died.
In a joint proposal to settle the five-year legal battle, the Tokyo and Otsu district courts suggested that the government pay 162.1 million yen and importers of tainted dura mater pay 1 billion yen to the victims and their families.
If both sides agree to the proposal, the average amount of compensation would reach 60.1 million yen per patient.
The court recommendation almost fully sides with the plaintiffs, who have urged the government and importers of dura mater to compensate all victims, including those who received transplants of dura mater tainted by the CJD-causing protein before 1987.
The Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry has so far ruled out compensating patients who contracted CJD before 1987, when the first case of CJD infection via such transplants was reported in the United States. But health minister Chikara Sakaguchi expressed his readiness earlier this week to compensate all patients.
The spread of CJD among those who underwent brain surgery came to light in the mid-1990s. Of 1,078 CJD patients in Japan as of March 2001, 76 were reportedly infected by CJD through brain surgery.
CJD patients and their families have filed a series of lawsuits with the two courts since 1996, with the number of patients involved reaching 31, of whom 27 have died. All of the patients contracted the disease through transplants of tainted human dura mater during brain surgery.
Aside from demanding compensation from the importers of the dura mater, the victims and their families have urged the government to cover 25 percent of the damages, blaming health authorities for continuing to authorize the import and sales of the products until 1997.
Friday's settlement proposal would provide compensation for 20 of the 31 plaintiffs. The conditions for the remaining 11, who joined the legal battle later, will be discussed later.
In November, the courts said in a statement that two importers of the product -- B. Braun Melsungen AG of Germany and Nihon B.S.S. -- and the government were responsible for the spread of the disease and urged them to provide relief to all patients.
The plaintiffs had proposed to the courts that the importers of the dura mater pay at least 60 million yen per patient. The pharmaceutical companies have already told the courts that they are ready to pay a certain amount of compensation.
Members of the group of plaintiffs at the Tokyo court expressed their gratitude Friday for the proposal because it recognizes the government's responsibility for compensating the victims.
"The proposal has basically realized much of our demands," said Isamu Ikefuji, representative of the plaintiffs at the Tokyo court, who's wife Sachiko died of CJD in 1995. "Though we still have a lot to do, today I feel that the summit of the mountain has finally come into sight."
The group's lawyers said they will bring together opinions of all their clients by early next week and tell the courts if they agree with the proposal. They said they will continue to fight until the government and the dura mater importers compensate all patients.
The pharmaceutical companies are expected to respond to the proposal sometime next week and the government plans to do so by March 1, the lawyers said.
The Japan Times: Feb. 23, 2002
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